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4A SIC baseball preview: Nine teams fighting to fill power vacuum in new-look league

Timberline storms the field after winning 2018 Idaho 5A state baseball title

Timberline beat Bonneville 7-4 in the 2018 Idaho 5A state championship game when reliever Tomas Vizgirdas escaped a bases-loaded jam.
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Timberline beat Bonneville 7-4 in the 2018 Idaho 5A state championship game when reliever Tomas Vizgirdas escaped a bases-loaded jam.

The 4A Southern Idaho Conference saw a major overhaul in the offseason.

Former league members Nampa, Columbia and Kuna rejoined the league from the 5A ranks. And Skyview, a juggernaut that won five of the past six district titles, moved up to the 5A classification.

That created a power vacuum, with nine programs circling to fill it. Below are the top teams and the top players who will decide that race.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Cobe Lehman, C/P, Vallivue

The two-time, first-team all-conference catcher has shut down running games throughout the Valley, leading the 4A SIC in runners caught stealing last year. He also poses a threat on the mound and at the plate, where he hit .345 with 25 RBIs and has pop.

“He is the engine that gets Vallivue going,” Bishop Kelly coach Jeff Cammann said.

Carson Smith, SS/P, Middleton

The College of Idaho football commit moves in from the outfield to take over a larger role at shortstop for the defending state champ. His athleticism makes him a weapon wherever he lines up, and his command and ability to mix speeds on the mound has him eyeing a top spot in the Vikings’ rotation.

“He has the ability to change momentum instantly,” Vallivue coach Justin Schneidt said.

Teague Gregory, P/1B, Emmett

The senior enters his third year in the starting lineup after earning first-team all-conference honors at first base, where he can wear out opponents by hitting for average. He’s also a tough matchup for opposing hitters with his mix of offspeed pitches.

“(He’s) a left-handed pitcher who can keep you completely off balance,” Schneidt said. “If you do not have a specific plan against him, he will make you look silly.”

Cooper Sutton, 2B, Vallivue

The Blue Mountain Community College commit returns to anchor the Falcons’ infield after earning first-team all-conference honors. His range, speed, glove and baseball IQ make him a threat each day for Vallivue.

“(He’s) all around one of the best players in our conference,” Caldwell coach John Rezendes said.

Can’t see the above preseason coaches’ poll on your phone? Click here for the full 4A SIC poll.

THE FAVORITE

VALLIVUE FALCONS

Last season: 23-7, 13-1 4A SIC

Coach: Justin Schneidt, 13th season

Key players: Cobe Lehman, sr.; Lan Larison, jr.; Chase Carpenter, sr.; Cooper Sutton, sr.

The reigning 4A SIC regular-season champ starts the season with nine returning starters, included a trio of first-team all-conference selections up the middle in Lehman (catcher), Sutton (second base) and Larison (center field).

Carpenter (6-1, 2.03 ERA) headlines the rotation with his arsenal of three pitches. With all that returning experience, Schneidt said Vallivue will be even deeper than last year’s state qualifier, which failed to earn a trophy.

“We have a lot of guys who are hungry this year, and last year’s tournament left a bad taste in their mouths,” Schneidt said.

THE CONTENDER

BISHOP KELLY KNIGHTS

Last season: 15-10, 10-4 4A SIC

Coach: Jeff Cammann, fourth season

Key players: Peyton Rossi, sr.; Ethan Buttars, sr.; Tristan Ray, jr.

After missing state the past two years, the perennial power returns five starters to try to make it back. Cammann said he has the tools to implement an aggressive, small ball-style attack to harass opponents. But he starts the year in search of pitching.

After placing four arms on the all-conference first and second teams last year, Buttars (second team) is the only one back in the rotation and healthy.

THE DARK HORSES

KUNA KAVEMEN

Last season: 10-17, 6-10 5A SIC

Coach: Jesse Dodd, fourth season

Key players: Diego Hernandez, jr.; Austin Bunn, jr.; Cole Newman, sr.

Injuries derailed a promising season for Kuna in 2018 as it ran out of arms. But with a bounty of young talent all over the field, Dodd said he has the depth needed to make it through the season.

Hernandez and Bunn figure to lead the offense, and the two team with a deeper lineup to prevent opposing pitchers from working around them. Dodd cautioned to expect some growing pains, but he added the Kavemen expect to compete deep into the season.

MIDDLETON VIKINGS

Last season: 15-16, 6-8 4A SIC

Coach: Pete Jones, sixth season

Key players: Colt Stanley, sr.; Carson Smith, sr.; Cooper Fry, sr.; Nate Johnson, sr.

Graduation hit the defending state champs hard, with just four returning starters. But after winning state titles in 2018 with a 15-16 record and in 2016 at 15-14 as massive underdogs, the Vikings know how to step up in May.

Stanley returns to lead the rotation after winning the state title game. And with Smith and Johnson joining him, Middleton once again has the arms for a late-season run.

NAMPA BULLDOGS

Last season: 8-16, 2-14 5A SIC

Coach: Casey Hedrick, first season

Key players: Jonas Plew, jr.; Braden Stauffer, sr.; Alex Bernal, sr.

Nampa starts the season in an enviable position with two experienced starting pitchers in Plew and Stauffer, who have plenty of 5A innings under their belt. Plew didn’t pitch last season after recovering from labrum surgery, but he did as a sophomore and Hedrick expects him to have a big bounceback season.

The lineup remains young though with many defensive specialists forced into everyday roles. How quickly they develop will determine how far the Bulldogs make it.

THE UNDERDOGS

COLUMBIA WILDCATS

Last season: 10-16, 7-9 5A SIC

Coach: Phil Diplock, 13th season

Key players: Trevor Penrod, sr.; Brock Drake, sr.

The Wildcats start the year looking for inexperienced players to step into starting roles with just two starters back. Columbia has two strong bats to build around in Drake (.368 batting average) and Penrod (.335). Penrod, a Northwest Nazarene commit, will also lead the pitching staff as a lefty with late movement on his fastball.

CALDWELL COUGARS

Last season: 8-19, 5-9 4A SIC

Coach: John Rezendes, third season

Key players: Connor Doan, sr.; Tyler Worwood, jr.; Carlos Flores, sr.; Leo Mora, sr.

The graduation of ace Dyson Scott leaves a big hole. But Rezendes said he has the depth on the mound to make up for it, allowing the Cougars to rely on more than one big-game pitcher. Doan steps into the No. 1 role, but Caldwell will likely have to scratch out close wins with small-ball tactics as it doesn’t have much power, Rezendes said.

EMMETT HUSKIES

Last season: 6-16, 5-9 4A SIC

Coach: Shad Larson, Emmett

Key players: Teague Gregory, sr.; Boone Bade, jr.

The league’s lowest-scoring team (3.4 runs per game) graduated its top hitter in Connor Gibson, a first-team all-conference pick. But Larson said he has the depth on the mound, led by Gregory and Bade, to make Emmett a threat to the league’s powers.

RIDGEVUE WARHAWKS

Last season: 6-20, 3-11 4A SIC

Coach: Ryan Abel, third season

Key players: Easton Amundson, so.; Parker Summers, sr.; Jalen Winegar, sr.; Issas Albor, jr.

With six returning starters, the upstart program has two rare commodities — varsity experience and depth. Amundson added 20 pounds since his freshman season and should surprise opponents with his power and fastball, Abel said. But the new program still must earn respect on the field.

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